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Victim Blaming, Media Narratives, and the Steubenville Rape Case: She’s an Honour Student Too

Posted on the 20 March 2013 by Hayleytantau @hayleytantau
Rape Culture: this is not okay.

Rape Culture: this is not okay.

Following the recent coverage of the rape case in Steubenville, Ohio – a “football-obsessed town” – there is an apparent media narrative overriding the severity of a rape case regarding a 16 year old girl. The perpetrators, two young men, Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays (16 and 17 years old respectively) are “star football players” as described by CNN, “whose lives are going to be haunted by the guilty verdict” cast by the judge.
People who glaze over the media coverage of the case will be quickly be aware of the boys’ skills and status as god-like high school football players because it has been repeated countless times – that these young men have had their football dreams dashed, their hopes and aspirations now marred by their public status as a “Registered Sex Offender”. A lot of people – including the news-media – are ignoring the point that they actually raped someone – an unconscious female (who was also an honor student at her school, but no one is shining light on that little fact). They took advantage of a 16 year old person who was unconscious, unresponsive, and they dragged her around by the wrists and feet, topless, filming her and posting pictures on Instagram. Mays, Richmond, and their friends – including the star of the video commentary, Cody Salts, who said “She is so raped right now!” – treated Jane Doe* like she was an inflatable sex-doll made for penetration and… being urinated on. Doe woke up the next morning topless with semen on her, unable to recall what had happened the night before, and could only recollect what happened once she saw posts on Instagram, Twitter on Facebook with images of her being dragged around and the 12 minute video depicting the exploits.

Here’s how CNN reported the case:

Apparently, Richmond and Mays were going to lead the Steubenville “Big Red” football team to victory this year before some unresponsive, un-consenting “slut” got in the way. I already know so much about these two boys through the media narratives set up to paint them in such a way – some media outlets depict them as fallen heroes, bordering on being portrayed as the victims of this case, and other outlets denounce their behavior (and quite rightly). I’ve heard numerous times that this case is “tearing this town apart” which translates “it’s not the rape that’s causing the problem, it’s the girl crying rape and begging for justice”. How dare she, speak out about being raped! As always in our culture, we seek to plot the demise of the female, and not the male. Here’s the slut-shaming and victim-blaming backlash on social media:

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The most disturbing one of these tweets is:
“I feel bad for the two young guys, Mays and Richmond, they did what most people in their situation would have done.”

So what “Josiah” is saying, is when presented with an inebriated, unconscious girl, “most people” in this situation would remove her clothes, drag her around, and urinate on her whilst recording unlawful penetration for all of social media to see? Hopefully most of us aren’t “normal”, then.

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I have seen my friends passed out from drinking, I have seen people I don’t know passed out from drinking. I too have been so drunk that I fell asleep at one stage, and I was fortunate enough to have my friend look out for me and put me to bed. Jane Doe* was – unfortunately – unconscious from drinking too much or having been drugged when this happened to her, which is something that happens to a lot of people. In a nasty turn of media events, people are using her intoxicated state as a reflection on her as a person deserving the violation she endured– or, as an object “just asking to be raped”.
Let’s get this clear: No one asks to be raped. No one. That’s the idea of “rape” – that it is not consensual, and that someone is being violated against their will. Alcohol, drugs, or wearing provocative clothing doesn’t turn a man or a woman into a rape victim – rapists do. If a woman or man goes out, dressed in “sexy” clothes and showing off parts of their body, they might be trying to please someone. Maybe this man or woman is looking to have sex with someone in particular – however, just because you happen to see this person and engage in conversation with them, doesn’t mean they’re responsible for your arousal. If they don’t want to have sex with you, but you have an erection, it’s not their job to relieve you of your hard-on or validate your incessant need to overpower somebody.

I don’t care if a woman is naked in your bedroom or wearing a full-length burka down the street – if she says no, it means no. She has a right to decide what happens to her body. No one is “asking” to be murdered, no one is “begging” to be raped. If someone is “begging” for sex, it means they willingly want to have sex. No one “asks” to have their body – conscious or unconscious – penetrated or violated against their will.

Clementine Ford, a feminist writer who frequently contributes to the discussion of rape culture, believes this case is going to change the way we react to ‘casual’ rape cases.

She argues: There’s no doubt that our society has a very fractured ability to address the reality of rape in any significant way. We still judge the severity of rape cases based on an arbitrary scale of blame and expectation – the more inebriated a woman or scantily clad, the greater her culpability in her own assault. Our notion of what constitutes ‘real’ rape is limited to attacks involving ‘evil men’ in alleyways,”

 The act of rape isn’t a morality tale…The Steubenville case has the potential to significantly influence how America (and perhaps the world) addresses rape culture and its attitudes towards offenders. The time for shrugged shoulders and platitudes about how boys behave when they get together is over…You don’t get to go home at the end of it and chalk it up to one of life’s quirky moments of truth.” (Read more of her words here:

Ford addresses the issue of how rape is viewed in society and how the media frames it in a particular way. Particularly in the sporting world, victim-blaming and slut-shaming are rife within discussion of who’s to blame for the downfall of this particular sporting hero – and usually, it’s the victim who’s non-consenting vagina was “asking for it”.

Something awful that is happening in this particular case is when young girls support the rapists, believing them to be some kind of victim in this set up. This could have happened to anyone. Unfortunately in rape culture, women have to restrict what they do in order to stay safe, and men can continue to push the boundaries to see how far they can go until they get a slap on the wrist – or a “registered sex offender” label.

There is only one victim in this case. Do the right thing and stick up for Jane Doe*, a young woman with a bright future ahead of her.

*pseudonym to protect a minor or victim in trial

Looks like the Friday Night Lights are out, boys.

Looks like the Friday Night Lights are out, boys.

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